In the Old West, there were homesteaders – people who staked a claim to previously-uninhabited land to raise their families. In children’s music, there are also homesteaders – performers who stake a claim to previously-uninhabited genres for people raising their families.
American roots music holds a fascination for many artists. Alan Lomax turned his passion into an obsession, making many recordings of the folk music of the early 20th century. Seventy years of Lomax tapes were acquired by the Library of Congress to augment their collection. One of the leading children’s musicians mining the deep folk vein is Red Yarn (Andy Ferguson), following the example of pioneering Dan Zanes (with last year’s Lead Belly, Baby!).
Hot Peas ‘N Butter (HPNB) are now entering the frayed overalls fray with their eighth CD, Back To the Land. The title track pretty much delivers the mission statement:
There’s so much more we have to grow
Back to the land
‘Cause it gives back the love that we sow
Back to the land
And between us
It will flow
Back to the land.
The point is hammered home with guest appearances on “Back to the Land” by Dan Zanes, Peter Yarrow, and Laurie Berkner, who also duets of “Big World Kid,” about children being comfortable and at home wherever they live – the city, mountains, or in a small town. And since my family is familiar with Alex and the Kaleidoscope’s “I’m So Glad,” we already know the song it originally sprang from, “Funga Alafia,” here given a sprightly Liberian HPNB spin.
Five albums of roots tunes from Red Yarn have predisposed me to hear “Little Fox” and naturally assume it’s a cover song. Nope. It’s an original genre number by bandmates Danny Lapidus and Steve Jabas. After dedicating the first half of Back To the Land to folk music, HPNB get back to their bread and tomato with Caribbean beats and handclaps on “Come To My Kitchen” and “Ven Conmigo Para Esta Tierra.” The latter translates to “Come With Me For This Earth,” affirming the CD’s affinity with affection for the world we live in.
HPNB wrap up their multi-cultural environmental theme with “Somos El Barco,” or “We are the boat” that carries civilization, built by many hands and touching many lands. It’s a laudable “we are the world” message aimed at children in a post-9/11 and zero tolerance culture. On Back To the Land, Hot Peas ‘N Butter literally go in many directions, from the Old West to South of the border, as well as back to another time when indoor plumbing was a novelty. In trying to connect so many dots, the CD is a bit of a structural mess. But ultimately it’s children who will be the arbiters of whether or not Back To the Land sticks the landing and effectively and mellifluously delivers its verdict.
Here is the video trailer for the CD: